Here are some of the best books and articles I’ve found over the last few years on the topics of work, myths, spirituality, flow and meaning. I have also included my most recent articles that have attempted to distill my learning on these topics into short digestible chunks.
SOME RECENT ARTICLES I’VE WRITTEN
Are You Sacrificing Your Life to Your Lifestyle? (5min). Facing the biggest, toughest question I encounter when coaching, especially on Wall Street.
Claiming Your Gift (10min). The real-life rewards of decoding your body.
When The Search Bar Fails You (4min). Explaining why coaching can do what Google can’t.
Finance: The Alternative To Waiting it Out (4min). The reason I founded Personal Best. Witnessing the wasted time and potential in some corners of finance.
Shame In The Shadows (7min). Shame is both cause and effect of stuckness, and it can be a hellish emotion. My own personal experience made this a difficult article to write.
Clarity at a Crossroads (5min). How to use your attention to respond to those times in your life when you feel like you’re stuck in limbo.
The Power of Pinocchio (9min). What myths can teach us about our own journey towards growth.
Sacrifices and Superpowers (6min). Some life-changing revelations from training as a coach.
“The Number” Is Jurassic Park (6min). On ‘faith’s’ role in alleviating the largely futile desire for material certainty.
Don’t Be a Sea Squirt (4min). On neuroplasticity and the importance of keeping your life filled with novelty.
You Bet Your Life (5min). On how technology uses our innate pattern-seeking behaviour to manipulate our attention.
Diving For Your Pearls of Pain (10min). On the proposed link between chronic pain and emotional repression. And the lengths we will go to to distract ourselves from it.
All Snakes, No Ladders (14min). On the poverty of modern career advice.
Why Fiction Beats Facts (7min). On why our unique human relationship with stories makes us vulnerable to tribalism.
SOME BOOKS & ARTICLES I HAVE FOUND USEFUL.
I have greatly enjoyed asking many master coaches for their favourite books on life and coaching, many of which I’ve included below.
Changing Careers, Personal Identity and the World of Work
Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra. My favourite book on career change, the book is an invaluable guide and explodes multiple harmful myths about career changes and mid-life transitions.
Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by David Whyte. Recommended by an expert in mid-life change. It’s a beautiful, poetic examination of work and identity. “If we can see the path ahead laid out for us, there is a good chance it is not our path; it is probably someone else’s we have substituted for our own.”- David Whyte
Energy Leadership by Bruce Schneider. Recommended by another expert coach. An interesting discussion of the impact of individual and organizational energy levels and how they affect your success.
Myths and Meaning
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell. A truly revelatory book for me. Campbell spent his life studying the meaning of myths and what they can tell us about our own inner landscapes. This dialoque with Bill Moyers distills a lifetime of learning into a short book.
12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. An internet phenomenon and deservedly so. This book is full of excellent advice. The most resonant for me is the importance of telling the truth. I wrote a short blog explaining why. His lectures are available on the Jordan B. Peterson podcast. His podcast with Navy SEAL Jocko Willink is NSFW but a good introduction. This Medium article is also a quick review of his basic thesis.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Hard work in the best possible way. A robust theory of meaning and stoicism formed in the crucible of Auschwitz.
Tribe by Sebastian Junger. A short, profound book about the need for greater community in our lives.
Resilience by Eric Greitens. A former Navy SEAL’s advice on living well. Full of good advice and stoic wisdom. Even if his own personal life hasn’t exactly reflected that stoicism….
Happiness, Mindfulness & Spirituality
Falling Upwards by Richard Rohr. A book about the second half of life, and those who stumble into a more spiritual mode of existence.
The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. On developing a higher state of consciousness and learning to ‘let go’. One of my favourite spiritual books because it is very clearly and simply written.
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat. An examination of how we can change our relationship with our own thoughts.
Taming your Gremlin by Rick Carson. Good, short book on learning how to improve your relationship with your internal monologue or ‘saboteur’.
Grace and Grit by Ken Wilbur. Wilbur gallantly attempted to distill millennia of spiritual thought into a single unified theory. Another coach recommendation, this is one of his more accessible works that still allows you to get a sense for his overall theoretical framework.
Principles by Ray Dalio. Good, if really overlong, treatise from the founder of one of the world’s most successful hedge funds. The parts on negotiating struggles and seeking the truth are most resonant.
Presence by Betty Sue Flowers, Joseph Jaworski, Otto Scharmer, and Peter Senge. A coach-recommended book on the power of intuitive thinking and higher consciousness to transform people and institutions.
Flow by Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi. The foundational text of flow theory by its creator.
Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal. A bit promotional, but nonetheless a fascinating account of the rapid evolution of the altered state economy. Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler is an earlier book specifically on extreme sports athletes and pursuit of flow.
Understanding Death & Mortality
The Five Invitations by Frank Ostaseski. Ostaseski spent years as the co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project in SF. Although a lot of the book is about death, it’s actually dense with wisdom about what it means to live more fully. He also talks articulately about pain avoidance in modern society.
Immortality by Stephen Cave. A historical dissection of the influence of immortality myths on human culture.
The Mind-Body Connection, Coaching and Therapy.
The Mindbody Prescription by Dr. John Sarno. A fascinating and controversial argument that chronic pain (especially back pain) is often caused by repressed emotions.
Mindsight by Dr. Daniel Siegel. On the power of stories to enhance physical and mental health.
Inner Work and Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert A. Johnson. Two short books recommended for those who are interested in Jungian psychology. The theme of both is self-inquiry as a route to personal growth. I took enormous comfort from his writing on paradoxical, ‘stuck’ situations. ‘Jung has said that to be in a situation where there is no way out, or to be in a conflict where there is no solution, is the classical beginning of the process of individuation’
On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy by Carl Rogers. On the transformative power of healing relationships, so much so that Rogers concluded: ‘the self-awareness and human presence of the therapist is more important than the therapist’s technical training.’ See also the placebo article below.
Existential–Humanistic Therapy by Kirk J. Schneider and Orah T. Krug. A dry title but a fascinating book on a brand of therapy that seems closely aligned with the core tenets of coaching. E-H ‘embraces three values: freedom (to become within the givens of human limitation), experiential reflection (to grapple with the challenges to what one becomes), and responsibility (to act on or respond to what one becomes).’ The cornerstone is appreciating the immense value of human presence and the use of experiential techniques to show people their own limitations and freedoms.
Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom. A weighty tome, in both senses given that it deals with ‘four ultimate concerns: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness.’ Yalom’s conclusion is one of the necessity of connection: ‘The question of meaning in life is, as the Buddha taught, not edifying. One must immerse oneself in the river of life and let the question drift away.’
Coactive Coaching by Henry Kimsey-House. The core text of the gold-standard coaching training programme. It stresses the value of listening, presence and understanding that ‘People Are Naturally Creative, Resourceful, and Whole’
What if the Placebo Effect Isn’t a Trick? in the NYT. We all know what the Placebo effect is, but this article raises a much more interesting point. ‘That the placebo effect is a biological response to an act of caring; that somehow the encounter itself calls forth healing and that the more intense and focused it is, the more healing it evokes’. I believe the right coaching relationship can be intrinsically healing.
Coaching vs Psychotherapy in health and Wellness: Overlap, Dissimilarities, and the Potential for Collaboration. A comprehensive article on the differences and similarities between coaching vs therapy.
The Most Important Question of Your Life by Mark Manson. ‘A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.’
America’s New Religions by Andrew Sullivan. This article more than any other revealed to me the importance of faith in cohering society and ourselves. A complex, emotive topic, but an excellent read.
The Midlife Unraveling by Brené Brown. If the title resonates then read the whole thing, it’s splendid writing. I especially like the description of how midlife is when you realise ‘your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts.’
Courage Under Fire by James Stockdale. A 21 page PDF speech of what Stockdale learned about himself and stoicism through years of torture in a Vietnamese POW camp. A good companion read to Frankl.
The Tail End by Tim Urban @ Wait But Why. A sobering visualisation of the time you have left in your life.
The Moral Bucket List by David Brooks. A remarkable article making the valuable distinction between ‘resume virtues and eulogy virtues’. Brooks also makes some good suggestions on how to live a life that maximises the latter.
The key to loving your job in the age of burnout. A really excellent article in Quartz about the role of meaning and sacrifice at work. “Sacrifice might be hurtful and exhausting, but it is a conscious choice,” he writes. “Suffering is the result of feeling that we cannot slow down or else we will be shamed and lose control. Sacrifice makes us who we are. Suffering keeps us captive.”
What It’s Like to Visit an Existential Therapist. A therapeutic modality of interest me, and one I’ve been trained in. The key question is ‘how are we presently living and how are we willing to live‘?’